Joanne Palmer: Picking up broken glass |

Joanne Palmer: Picking up broken glass

Joanne Palmer

In 1989, Joanne Palmer left a publishing career in Manhattan and has missed her paycheck ever since. She is a mom, weekly columnist for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, and the owner of a property management company, The House Nanny. Her new book "Life in the 'Boat: How I fell on Warren Miller's skis, cheated on my hairdresser and fought off the Fat Fairy" is now available in local bookstores and online at or

Glass is nearly impossible to clean up. Even if you vacuum, sweep, mop and crawl over the floor looking for the tiniest pieces, a week later you will spot another shard glinting in a corner.

Grief, I've come to realize, is much the same as broken glass. Days, weeks and months after you lose someone, you firmly will be convinced you have cried every tear, relived every memory and looked at every picture, and then along will come something that delivers a sucker punch.

For me, it was a toothbrush.

My mother gave me a new toothbrush every time I came home. Her dentist loaded her up with free toothbrushes, and she'd always tuck one away to give to me. Frequently, she'd call after her dental checkup to crow, "No cavities. And I have a toothbrush for you!" Sometimes, if it had been a while between my visits, she'd mail me two or three toothbrushes.

I found this annoying.

"I have a job," I'd snap. "I can afford to buy my own toothbrush."

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But it didn't stop her.

The other morning, I picked up my ratty toothbrush and was overcome with sorrow. How, I wondered, could I have been so mean, so unappreciative? I would give anything for another visit with her, another toothbrush.

As I approach the two-year anniversary of her passing, I think a lot about grief, sorrow and miracles. I think about memorial services I attended where the clergyperson talked about how it still was possible to feel the presence of a deceased loved one and to have a relationship with them. Cynically, I sat there inwardly rolling my eyes and thinking, "Yeah, yeah, they are just trying to make us feel better."

Then on one particularly difficult day, I decided to ask for help. I closed my eyes and said out loud, "Mom, I need a little help down here. I need a sign you are OK and I need you to help me right now."

The very next day my mailbox was filled with mail, all addressed to her. Although her mail had been forwarded to me for a while, the forwarding time long since had expired, and I had not received any of her mail for months. I never have been so happy to get junk mail in my life. I held it all close to my heart and said, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

But she wasn't finished.

Two days later, a certified letter from her bank arrived at the post office. When I saw what it was, I started to laugh. The post office clerk said, "What is so funny?" "Oh, it's just a sign from my mom." "I understand, he said. I lost my mom recently, too."

After that, things started to turn around. In big and small ways, little miracles began to happen. On the first icy day of winter, unable to stop my car, I went right through a red light onto U.S. Highway 40, narrowly missing a semitrailer. How is it possible, I wondered, that I did not hit that truck? But I knew.

Yesterday, I worked hard on a column about Powerball. I thought I was finished, and then I read the tragic story of Steamboat freshman Nick Pagliaro, who was killed in a car crash Sunday. Even though I did not know him or his family, my heart goes out to them. The unimaginable loss set against the backdrop of the holidays is heartbreaking. If it is possible even for a split second to envision the arms of the community around you, please do.

Broken glass is hard to piece back together. You can try to glue it, but sometimes you have to throw it out and start over. It never will be the same, but one day you will realize that's OK, and you can live with the way things are now.